Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong
March 26, through September 13, 2015
Museum of Chinese in America
215 Centre Street, New York City
…Nature took away from Tad the physical strength to enjoy sports when she gave him his genius. But whether it is baseball or boxing, tennis or track, he is in the spirit of every event he sees. And he is so generous he wants both sides to win.
I ask Tad if he ever gets to the fights any more.
“No, that’s impossible for me now, but I’ll tell you how I see them.”
“Boy,” he called.
A Chinese lad, probably seventeen or eighteen, came in. “I want you to meet one of my boys. The other [Wong Hong Kee] is in China getting married. He goes to every fight at Madison Square Garden and then comes home and fights them for me. I get them almost as well as if I were there.”
Then I learned from Mrs. Dorgan about the boys and I also learned another side of Tad and Mrs. Dorgan—Tad is so famous under his cartoonist’s signature that few people know his name is Thomas A. Dorgan; his initials form his public signature.
“I have been immensely interested in mission and other welfare work all of my life,” Tad’s wife told me, “and our Chinese boys didn’t have any home when they were babies, so I brought them home and Mr. Dorgan and I have given them a chance. We have educated them and we are just as proud of them as if they were our own.”
Then Tad took all the sob out of this part of the story by interrupting, “Yeh, the boys beat us playing mah jong and we beat them playing pinocle, so it's fifty-fifty.” What a lesson Mrs. Dorgan could give some women in motherhood and wifehood!Wong Hong Kee returned from China on March 26, 1928. Below is a transcription of form M 149:
“Funeral Service for Tad Is Private”
High Mass Requiem Held for Cartoonist at Great Neck
Body to Lie in Mausoleum
Funeral services for Thomas Aloysius Dorgan, cartoonist, who was known to the world as Tad, were held today with a solemn high mass of requiem at St. Aloysius’s Church, Great Neck, L.I. The Rev. Joseph K. Doyle, assistant rector, officiated.
The body will be placed in the chapel at Cypress Hills Cemetery and later in the mausoleum there when it is completed.
The funeral services were quiet, as had been Tad’s wish, and were attended only by relatives and a few close friends. They included his mother, Mrs. Anna Dorgan; his widow, two Chinese boys, whom he had adopted, and his brothers and sisters and their families.
The brothers and sisters are Joseph, Dorgan, advertising manager of a Knights of, Columbus publication; John (“Ike”) Dorgan of the Madison Square Garden personnel; Edwin Dorgan, of the circulation department of the New York Journal; Dick Dorgan, a cartoonist; Mrs. John Tierney, Mrs. Robert Hurliaman, and Miss Alice Dorgan. Another sister, Mrs. Smith of Orlando, Fla., was unable to reach Great Neck in time for the services.
Duck and Spensi
The two boys were Wong Ho, whom Tad called Duck, and Wong Hong Kee, whom he named Spensi. Duck is twenty-one years old and Spensi twenty. Spensi received his name when Tad attempted to teach him to say “Springfield.” “Spensi” was the closest he could come to the pronunciation.
Duck was Tad’s “outside man.” He was interested in boxing, baseball, and all other sports, and when there was an important fight or game, it was Duck whom Tad sent as his personal representative.
Duck was always provided with a ringside seat for every boxing match of importance, and he had a wonderful memory. When he returned home, he would give Tad the fight blow for blow. It was from the verbal pictures brought home by Duck that Tad drew his sport cartoons.
How Tad Followed Baseball
When it came to baseball, Duck was forced to take notes to record everything that happened. When he returned to Tad’s bedside—Tad was an invalid for seven years—he would have pockets bulging with notes on box-scores, batting averages, and the actions of the many plays. He kept each player’s record up to the minute with the dispatch of a sporting editor, and when he arrived back in Great Neck, he would have the day's batting records already entered into the seasons averages for each, player.
Spensi was the “home boy,” He was more interested in obtaining sporting fact, for Tad than in the sporting facts themselves. He stood faithfully at Tads bedside during ring battles and ball games, keeping the radio tuned to the point where reception was beat. Spenai was also a good man at the telephone and brought “inside information” on sporting events by wire.
The two Chinese lads were adopted by the Dorgans nine years ago. Tad and Mrs. Dorgan educated them and wherever they went the two boys went, too. At hotels and on trips there were “Tad’s boys” and members of the family. Tad had no children of his own.
Defied Handicap Seven Year
Tad was kept in bed for seven years with “a bum ticker.” as he termed his weak heart, but through these many months of illness, he remained “game” and cheerful and dally drew his cartoons that brought mirth to millions.
With the words of a physician ringing in his ears that he “might die at any minute,” he kept his pencil working. From his cartoons phrases were picked up which became a part of the native American dialect. “Yes, we have no bananas,” “Drop that wheelbarrow,” “Bonehead,” “Solid Ivory,” “Applesauce.” “Whaddaya mean ya lost yer dog?” “The first hundred years are the hardest,” are expressions of his which became favorites of casual conversation and stage patter.
Tad was game, and it was his gameness that made him the cartoonist that he was. When he was but a boy, he lost all of the fingers of his right hand but one in an accident. He learned to draw with his left hand, and it was through his cartoons he gave the public the explosive humor of his keen wit. Through the seven years of the illness that kept him confined to his bed the greater part of the time, he never lost his sense of humor. His optimism sparkled through the pain of his illness, and his pencil drew on, despite the handicap of almost entire physical disability.The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York), May 5, 1929:
Great Neck, L. I., May 4—Funeral services for Thomas Aloysius “Tad” Dorgan were held in his home at 17 7th st. here today. At the request cf his widow only 40 intimate friends and members of the family were present.
The service for “Tad,” who died on Thursday after an illness of nearly nine years, was conducted by the Rev. Joseph E. Doyle, assistant rector of St. Aloysius Church, Great Neck. Though Mrs. Dorgan had requested that no flowers be sent, living rooms of the house were filled with floral tributes from friends of the sport world. Interment was made in the receiving vault of Cypress Hills Abbey.
His two adopted Chinese boys, Wong Ho, 21, and Wong Hong Kee, 20, whom “Tad” considered members of his family, were also present.The Pittsburgh Press (Pennsylvania), May 5, 1929:
Jack Johnson Among Those Who Mourn Cartoonist.
By the United Press.
New York, May 4.—The funeral of “Tad” as T.A. Dorgan, cartoonist was known was held today from the Dorgan home on Long Island. About 40 close friends attended the private services. They included Jack Johnson, former heavyweight champion; “Philadelphia Jack” O’Brien, fighter; Jack Doyle, head of the National Billiard Assn.; Gene Buck, song writer, and former associates in the newspaper profession.
In the procession to the cemetery “Duck” and “Spensi,” two Chinese boys the Dorgans had adopted several years ago, rode with the mourners. They seemed heartbroken.
“Duck” in the years that Tad had been confined to his home, had been the cartoonist’s “eyes.” He had a ringside seat at every important sporting event. His memory was remarkable and it was his duty to return home and describe each happening and each thing he saw to Tad, who later used this afterward in his drawings.
Spensi’s work was that of looking up material and obtaining data. He pored over sporting records and provided Tad with all the varied information he required. Duck’s real name was Wong Ho and Spensi’s was Wong Hong Kee. “Duck” is 21 and Spensi is 20. The names of “Duck” and “Spensi” were given them by Tad.Century, Autumn 1929:
“Tad for Short”
Cartoonist and Phrase-Maker, a Victim of Circumstance
…Many of Tad’s admirers have wondered how he kept in touch with the sporting world and continued to draw pictures for eight years after he was confined to the house. Tad had two Chinese boys whom he and Mrs. Dorgan adopted years before. After his heart attack in 1920 Tad began to train one of these boys—“Duck,” he called him—to go out in the highways and byways of sportdom and gather material. So “Duck” went to all the baseball games and prize-fights, billiard matches and sport jamborees, acting as eyes and ears for Tad. He would come back from a fight and reenact the battle blow by blow, for even under the most exciting conditions he didn’t lose his head. One of the most thrilling things I have ever listened to was “Duck’s” description of the Dempsey-Firpo fight. It was his careful analysis of the blow that sent Dempsey out of the ring that enabled Tad to make a superbly realistic drawing of an event he had never seen.Wong Hong Kee was counted in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. The head of the household was Dorgan’s wife, Izole M., whose mother, Nana L Messaros, also lived there at 17 Seventh Street, North Hempstead, New York. According to the census, Wong Hong Kee’s relation to Izole was a servant, not a son.